10 Essential Jazz Guitar Albums
When I was a kid, there was no YouTube, Spotify, or iTunes, and living in a small town made finding jazz guitar albums difficult to say the least.
After buying every jazz album at my local record store, I scoured mail order catalogues looking for the next addition to my collection.
Without any direction, I found some great records, and some not so great records.
While online music sites make it easier to find albums, it also makes it difficult to sort the good from the bad.
To help you sift through the huge volume of jazz guitar albums, I’ve chosen 10 albums to introduce newcomers to the genre, and fill out the library of the serious listener.
These albums are not the best jazz guitar albums.
Instead, they cover 10 legendary players, explore jazz sub-genres, and open your ears to explore these players, and eras further.
Check out these records, they might not all be your cup of tea, but they expose you to some of the best albums jazz guitar has to offer.
And, you don’t have to send a check and wait a month for them to arrive; you can jump on iTunes and enjoy them today.
Man I feel old…
10 Essential Jazz Guitar Albums (Click to Skip Down)
- East Coast Love Affair
- A Go-Go
- Genius of the Electric Guitar
- El Hombre
- Midnight Blue
- Bright Size Life
- Jim Hall Live
- Incredible Jazz Guitar
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East Coast Love Affair – Kurt Rosenwinkel
“The album showcases some of Rosenwinkel’s finest playing” – David R Adler (Allmusic.com)
The most modern guitarist on this list, Kurt Rosenwinkel has changed the face of jazz guitar as he leads the genre into the new millennium.
With a strong sense of melody, advanced harmonies, unique tone, and strong groove, Rosenwinkel is a master, which is evident on ECLA.
Recorded live at Smalls in New York, the album features bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Jorge Rossy, forming one of the great jazz guitar trios.
The tunes are mostly jazz standards, which appeals to traditional jazz fans looking to expand their collection with a modern jazz album.
For me, Kurt’s playing on this record is at his best.
His ideas are creative, flow smoothly over the changes, and the trio interacts almost as one instrument.
A Go-Go – John Scofield
“Those who aren’t afraid of the funk will definitely want to go to this A Go Go.” – Bill Milkowski (Jazztimes)
When you take jazz guitarist John Scofield, and team him up with Medeski Martin and Wood, the results are what you’d expect – killer.
Though it seems like MMW and Sco have always collaborated, A Go Go was the first album they recorded together.
For those looking to step out of the usual jazz albums, A Go Go opens your ears to jazz funk in a creative and highly improvisational setting.
Djangology – Django Reinhardt
“Djangology…stands as further proof of the guitarist’s casual genius.” – Mark Deming (Allmusic.com)
Though I’m not the biggest gypsy jazz fan, I have a huge appreciation for Django Reinhardt.
There’s a fire in Django’s solos that is rare, and his influence is still felt today, decades after he released his first recordings.
This compilation album, which was the last Django and Stephane Grappelli recorded together, was culled from 50 tracks recorded in 1949 while the duo was on tour in Italy.
On a personal note, the first jazz concert I ever saw was Stephane Grappelli with Bucky Pizzarelli, and as they say that night changed my life.
One can only wonder what Django would have accomplished if he had lived longer, as he passed away not long after this album was recorded.
Genius of the Electric Guitar – Charlie Christian
“This worthwhile collection confirms the guitarist to be a bridge between two of Jazz’s most glorious eras.” – Bill Shoemaker (Jazztimes)
To think that Charlie Christian changed the face of jazz guitar before he passed away at the age of 25 is amazing.
Few players have had that kind of impact on jazz, and fewer at that young age, which makes Christian a true genius of the instrument.
Featuring selections from Christian recordings, including his legendary collaborations with Benny Goodman, this album is a must have for any jazz fan.
Tracks include Rose Room, Seven Come Eleven, and Honeysuckle Rose, reflecting the intensity that made Christian a favorite of swing and bebop fans alike.
We’ll never know what Christian would have accomplished had he lived longer.
In the same vein as Jimi Hendrix, fans wonder if Christian’s success would’ve grown as jazz evolved in the post-bop era.
While this question can’t be answered, one thing’s for sure, this album showcases why Christian is considered to be the father of jazz guitar.
Virtuoso – Joe Pass
“If you must have one Joe Pass recording, let it be this one.” – C. Michael Bailey (Allaboutjazz.com)
Choosing one Joe Pass record for this list is almost an impossible task.
But, if I had to pick a desert island Pass record, it would be Virtuoso.
Though Joe made some incredible group records, he turned the jazz world on its head with this quintessential solo jazz album.
For me, his playing on this album is some of his best, and is, in my opinion, his strongest solo guitar album.
Joe’s playing is raw, in a good way, and the tracks are organized yet improvised at the same time, keeping the listener guessing at what’s coming next.
If I had to recommend one solo jazz guitar album, Virtuoso would be it.
While solo guitar albums can sometimes wear on the listener, Virtuoso sounds fresh with each listen.
El Hombre – Pat Martino
“El Hombre is an organ-drenched speedfest that shows off this Philly kid’s ability to play soulfully…It was Martino’s calling card, and this was his party…it was appropriately a good time.” – Will Layman (Pop Matters)
“Wow this guy is absolutely amazing.”
And, after learning he was 22 years old:
“Well, time to pack it in.”
Pat Martino has pushed the limits of post-bop guitar with his lightening fast lines, deep bebop vocabulary, and excursions into Eastern, modal, and pop genres.
Though his playing isn’t for everyone, it’s hard not to admire Pat’s abilities and the energy that he brings to every tune, especially on this record.
As well as being a great listening record, there is a lifetime’s worth of study here for jazz guitarists when it comes to transcribing lines and solos from this album.
When I was coming up, Pat’s solo on Just Friends from this album was essential learning.
There’s enough vocabulary in that one solo to keep any player busy in the woodshed for years.
Whether you’re looking to check out a new hard-bop album, or want to build your bebop vocabulary, this is a must-have album.
Check it out. Even if it’s not for you, it’s worth at least a few listens.
Midnight Blue – Kenny Burrell
“Few albums capture the aesthetic of Blue Note’s golden era better than Midnight Blue” – Aidan Levy (Bluenote Records)
When I was younger, I never really got into Midnight Blue, but this Kenny Burrell album has grown on me over time.
This is the best bridge album for blues guitarist looking to explore jazz, from both a listening or playing standpoint.
The tunes have a strong blues feel to them, and Kenny is at the top of his game, playing endless choruses of classic jazz blues lines and phrases.
As well, fans of Stevie Ray Vaughn will recognize Chitlins Con Carne, which SRV recorded and even began his solo with the same opening line from Kenny’s solo.
Bright Size Life – Pat Metheny
“All in all, a bright shining statement from a time some folks think of as the bleakest era in Jazz.” – Murray Horwitz (American Film Institute/NPR)
There are few players who’ve had the same impact on jazz as Pat Metheny, and it all began with Bright Size Life.
Featuring Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses, Pat leads this trio with the confidence one would expect from a player twice his age, not from one making their debut as a leader.
Outdoing Martino by a year, Metheny was 21 when this album was released in 1978, and it’s made “best of” lists ever since.
While many listeners come to Metheny through his Pat Metheny Group recordings, Bright Size Life remains one of his best.
Transitioning jazz from the ‘70s to the ‘80s, Bright Size Life introduced the world to the slippery, reverb soaked, and intense playing that became Metheny’s characteristic sound.
If you only own one modern jazz guitar record, Bright Size Life is your best bet.
It’s jazz guitar soloing, writing, and comping at its best.
Live – Jim Hall
“A treat for all fans of Jim Hall.” – David Rickert (Allaboutjazz.com)
After hearing it for the first time, I remember thinking:
“I need to stop everything and learn to play like that.”
That’s the kind of album Live is.
At this stage in his career, it was no secret that Jim Hall was a world-class player, but Live elevated his status to jazz guitar legend.
It remains as one of the top jazz guitar trio performances of all time, and set the bar high for creativity and group dynamics.
There’s something about the interaction between Hall, drummer Terry Clarke, and bassists Don Thompson, that’s a joy to listen to.
Their reaction to each other’s ideas borders on ESP, with each player complementing the ideas of the other in a musical and entertaining fashion.
This is the one trio record that every jazz guitarist should own.
Even if you aren’t a Jim Hall fan, and how could you not be, it’s worth checking out.
Incredible Jazz Guitar – Wes Montgomery
“This remarkable set…catches precisely the quality that made Cannonball Adderley burst into the Riverside offices…and insist they sign him.” – The Guardian
Though other albums had a bigger influence on my playing, Incredible Jazz Guitar by Wes Montgomery made me want to play jazz.
After tiptoeing into the jazz world as a teenager, a friend of mine hipped me to this record.
After listening to the first track, I knew I wanted to play jazz guitar for the rest of my life.
I knew I would never reach Wes’ creative heights, but the record inspired me to dedicate all my time to being the best jazz guitarist I could be.
It’s not often an album changes someone’s life, but Incredible Jazz Guitar is that kind of album.
It’s hard to only have one Wes Montgomery album on a list like this, but if I had to choose only one, it’s this record.
Full of great tunes, classic solos, intense playing from Wes, and a strong group dynamic, this is the one jazz guitar album every player should own.
It’s a life changer.